Lucinda Williams spent three years recording and re-recording the songs for this rambling bluesy country travelogue with three different producers. During the recording of her previous album 'Sweet Old World', she walked away from a contract with RCA because she was dissatisfied with the direction they were taking her music. While that album did not chart, it garnished so much praise from critics that she was offered a deal with major label Mercury/Polygram Records.
She began recording the songs for 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road' with guitarist and producer Gurf Morlix in Austin, Texas; but was unhappy with the way they sounded. A year later she started again. This time with songwriter Steve Earle and his engineer Ray Kennedy in Nashville, Tennesee on vintage recording equipment. Earle and Williams butted heads and she made the decision to start again in Los Angeles with Roy Bittan keyboardist for the E-Street Band. She spent a lot of time experimenting with different approaches on each song and the sessions went on for months.
The sessions featured Lucinda Williams on vocals, acoustic guitar, and Dobro guitar; Gurf Morlix on electric guitar, 12 string electric guitar, electric slide guitar, harmony vocal, and acoustic slide guitar; John Ciambotti on bass guitar and upright bass; Donald Lindley on drums and percussion; Buddy Miller on acoustic guitar, mando guitar, harmony vocal, and electric guitar; Ray Kennedy on 12 string electric guitar; Greg Leisz on 12 string electric guitar and mandolin; Roy Bittan on Hammond B3 organ, accordion, and organ; Jim Lauderdale on harmony vocal; Charlie Sexton on electric guitar and Dobro guitar; Steve Earle on acoustic guitar, harmonica, harmony vocal, and resonator guitar; Johnny Lee Schell on electric guitar, electric slide guitar, and Dobro guitar; Bo Ramsey on electric guitar and slide guitar; Micheal Smotherman on B-3 organ; Richard “Hombre” Price on Dobro guitar; and Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal.
Williams said at the time: ''Everybody thinks I'm such a perfectionist. That's what's so frustrating. A million people could tell me this album's great, and it won't matter if I don't feel that way in my gut. It's the whole art thing...I just have this horrible fear of being overproduced. Just listen to the radio or watch MTV. All the edge is taken off. I'm trying to keep the edge on.''
'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road' became her first album to chart and her big breakthrough, going to number one hundred and forty-four in the UK, sixty-nine in Australia, sixty-five in the US, sixty in Sweden, fourteen on the US RPM country chart, and number five on the Australian country chart. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll.
"Right in Time" – 4:35
"Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" – 4:44
"2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten" – 4:42
"Drunken Angel" – 3:20
"Concrete and Barbed Wire" – 3:08
"Lake Charles" – 5:27
"Can’t Let Go" (Randy Weeks) – 3:28
"I Lost It" – 3:31
"Metal Firecracker" – 3:30
"Greenville" – 3:23
Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals
"Still I Long For Your Kiss" (Williams, Duane Jarvis) – 4:09
"Joy" – 4:01
"Jackson" – 3:42